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Government opens copyright consultation

By | Published on Thursday 15 December 2011

The government announced a consultation yesterday to review various proposals made by the Hargreaves Review of intellectual property law earlier this year.

The consultation will mainly focus on expanding the so called fair use – or, technically in English law, ‘fair dealing’ – provisions in UK copyright law, which allow the use of copyright work without permission in certain circumstances. Some of the proposals would bring UK fair use rules more inline with similar provisions in American and/or European copyright systems.

Up for discussion are the introduction of a private copy right, a parody right, and the expansion of fair dealing for non-commercial research and other educational practices. Procedures for dealing with so called orphan works where copyright owners are unidentifiable will also be considered, as will the possibility of statutory provisions to encourage and enable more voluntary collective licensing, especially in the digital space.

Confirming the consultation, which will run through to next March, the Minister for Intellectual Property Judith Wilcox said: “The government is focused on boosting growth, and some freeing up of existing copyright legislation can deliver real value to the UK economy without risking our excellent creative industries. We are encouraging businesses to come forward with thoughts and evidence on our proposals to help us achieve this”.

Although the music industry was generally relieved with the recommendations made by Professor Hargreaves, with some initially expecting more radical proposals to limit certain copyrights, the music rights sector is still likely to air some concerns during this new consultation, and will urge the government to adopt a conservative approach to any new fair use concessions.

Likely to cause most tension – both within and outside political circles – is the private copy right, which allows consumers to legally make back up copies of CDs, usually onto a PC, digital music device or CDR, for private use.

Although the music industry has, for a number of years, been basically supportive of the introduction of such a right, recognising the current rule – forbidding such private copies – is ridiculous because no one obeys it, labels and music publishers are likely to push for the introduction of some sort of levy on certain devices as compensation for the private copy right, as exists elsewhere in Europe. This will cause some controversy because Hargreaves proposed no such levy be provided. Therefore such a move will likely result in yet more bad PR for the “money grabbing” music business (as they will almost certainly be portrayed in the tech press), and for arguably modest returns in the long term.

Cross-sector trade body UK Music yesterday indicated that it would lobby for some compensation for rights owners as part of any new private copy right. They told reporters: “Clearly, there is a case for updating the UK’s copyright framework in some areas. For instance, making it lawful for a person to copy their CDs to their iPod for private use is a long overdue reform – and one where the UK is at odds with the rest of Europe. UK Music believes that music fans in this country should enjoy the same clarity as those in France or Germany. Likewise, musicians, composers and music businesses in this country should enjoy parity with their European counterparts”.

UK Music, which will respond for the music industry to the government’s wide-ranging review (as may other trade bodies representing specific strands of the music business), also questioned some of the assumptions made by Hargreaves and the government regards the economic potential of expanding the fair use principle of British copyright law, fearing that over ambitious growth figures could cloud judgement if and when parliament is asked to weigh up the relative interests of copyright owners and users.

Says UK Music:  “The ten recommendations made by the [Hargreaves] Review, it is asserted, will add between 0.3 and 0.6 percent to annual GDP growth – up to £7.9 billion per annum. From the evidence presented so far, UK Music believes that these growth projections are overstated and unrealistic, and are based upon underlying assumptions that are deeply flawed. Added to this is a very real danger that poorly targeted or ideologically driven changes to copyright law could instead undermine growth, both for the UK’s creative sector and those digital businesses dependent upon our valuable content”.

Expect plenty of copyright debate in the new year then. Which is something to look forward to, surely?